In Mesmerized, the last time Piper saw Andrei, he was in lock up, on a path straight to permanent detention or worse. He’s come back after disappearing from their ‘Verse without a word… But they never forgot one another.
Phantom Corps: MESMERIZED by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2011, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, The Berkley Publishing Group
“She told you to leave. Take your people and go. You’re trespassing and trespassers get shot.” Kenner gestured with the weapon to underline that.
“You’re playing a dangerous game, girl. The kind of game that gets people hurt. Take your profit, keep your mouth shut and deliver the goods.”
“Profit is one thing. Betraying my government is another entirely.” She shot at the ground near his toes, satisfied when he emitted a high pitched squeal as he jumped back. “Get the fuck outta here.”
She turned and if she hadn’t lost her footing when she tripped over her kit bag, she’d have taken a blast to the back.
People scattered, shouting orders as the whoosh of auto loading las-guns zinged through the air. Bullets cracked. The stench of black powder and laser off-gas from the blasters was enough to make her eyes water as she managed to get behind some shelter.
“Don’t waste ammo. Shoot to kill,” Kenner ordered into his wrist mic. Shots rained down on the Imperial soldiers from the sniper posts in the courtyard towers.
She managed to grab a mask from the kit Kenner had tossed to her, her tears already flowing.
“There are two dozen heavily armed soldiers. I don’t know how I feel about these odds,” Taryn said, mouth set in a grim line.
Kenner hissed. “Eleven. Yeah that’s right, Imperialist scum! I will kill each and every one of you!” he called out.
“Gods above and below,” Taryn grumbled. “I don’t suppose I could convince you-” he paused to fire his weapon, grinning savagely as the body hit the ground, “-to get down in the shelter, could I?”
“Me? This is my fault. I’m the last person who should be running right now.” They’d managed to get to one of the outbuildings. She quickly booted the compound’s vid system. “By the west fence. It’s Stahl. They’ve got him pinned down.”
Eiriq called out that he was on the way and Taryn took off after him for backup.
“We are fucked, Piper. We gotta call in for some help. We’ve got four men down. You and I are pinned here. They’re inside now. It’s only a matter of time.” Kenner continued to pepper the advancing Imperialists with fire.
The ground at their feet took fire, sending dust skyward. “If we bring in the polis, we expose everything! We invite them into a compound they’ve wanted to search for ages.” They’d all likely end up in lock up.
“What if they think we’re working with the Imperialists? Have you thought of that, Piper? Because I have. Fuck!”
“Give yourselves up and we can discuss this,” Cheney called out via loudspeaker.
“How can you think we’d work with you now? Bastards, get the fuck off my land or end up dead,” Taryn responded and it came through, loud and clear, via her wrist mic.
The heat of a blast from a las-rifle stirred the hair at his temples as Piper grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him back.
“Guess they don’t care. Stay down!” She growled at him. “Don’t you fucking die or I will bring you back and kick your butt.”
He sent her a crooked smile. “You’d have to do all the laundry yourself.”
“We’re stuck. On our way back to you as soon as we can break free,” Taryn spoke over the wrist mic.
Shit, shit, shit.
The sound of the Imperial soldiers swarming their compound rose, though she was gratified each time they set off a trap or one of them got taken out by her people.
Inescapably, they were gaining the upper hand and Kenner was right, she’d have to call for help, even if it meant lock-up.
One of them came around the corner, training his weapon on her. Kenner brought his own up but the soldier fell before either of them could get a shot off.
Kenner looked up, confused, but thank seven heavens he didn’t move from their little corner. They watched, shooting as they could, as, one by one, soldiers began to fall.
“Who is up there?” Kenner scrambled for his field glasses.
“No, he’s bringing Stahl back toward the clinic.”
One by one, as Piper watched the monitors, soldiers fell as they were sniped from above.
She spoke into her wrist mic, “I want that tower, the east corner, protected. Move!” She stood, Kenner next to her. “Cover me, I’m headed across the courtyard.” Before he could argue, she darted out, keeping low. Whoever was up there needed to be protected.
The next moments passed as if she were watching it all via vid screen. One by one, the soldiers would attempt an approach. And one by one, the sniper took them out.
“They’re leaving!” Taryn called out via his wrist mic.
“Make sure of that. Have them monitored,” Kenner instructed.
It was then, through the dust, emerged their savior, long, dark hair lifting on the breeze as he walked casually toward her.
Her heart stuttered, even as she mopped her forehead and pretended to be casual.
His eyes were still serious. Still the palest of blues and still fringed with long, dark lashes. He was still so intensely beautiful it made her stomach clench.
“Dear gods, Andrei?” Kenner sounded just as surprised as Piper was.
His gaze locked on hers, not giving anything away. Eleven years and he hadn’t changed that much. Eleven years and the sight of him still thrilled her senses, even as anger and hurt won out.
She took one step, and then two. The last one and she’d already cocked her fist so that by the time the movement was finished, her fist had connected with his mouth. That part had been satisfying. Not so much when she said his name, meaning it to sound angry, but it was almost a plea.
Andrei wiped his lip, tasting dirt and blood. That combination took him right back to his youth. Much like seeing Piper had. “That was your one free shot.”
Taryn jogged up and seeing it was Andrei, he shouted his greeting, grinning and clapping Andrei’s back. “Andrei! You came back at just the right time.”
He looked around the yard, at the bodies and the blood soaking into the earth. “Guess so.” His heart still thundered in his chest at the thought of losing her. At the thought that she could just not be there anymore. Thank the gods he’d arrived when he had.
When it came to her, his emotions were not so easily brought under control.
“What are you doing here?” Piper demanded. Hurt danced in her eyes, lancing into him.
“I would like to speak to you,” he looked to each Roundtree sibling, “to all of you. In private.”
Taryn nodded, making the choice for them. Good to see he was still in charge. He had a strong, steady hand which was responsible for the fact that Kenner and Piper were still alive. Andrei had envied that sort of devotion, had never had anything like it.
“We need to deal with the wounded and the dead first.” Piper looked out over the carnage, blinking back tears.
Kenner’s gaze flicked to his sister, just briefly. He grinned then, coaxing a near-smile from Piper. He clapped Andrei’s shoulder. “Just like old times, huh? Andrei and Kenner cleaning up after a fight.”
Andrei snorted, tossing his jacket on a nearby fence. Body disposal was hot, hard work, but he’d done it enough that he was efficient at it. There was no need for Piper to be touched by it any more than she already was.
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